How Whey Protein Fights AgeingPrint
By Michael Downey
Whey protein is widely assumed to be a supplement just for athletes seeking to add additional muscle mass. That’s just a small part of the picture. Studies reveal that whey has anti-aging benefits.
Research shows that whey reduces muscle wasting in the elderly, inhibits weight gain, may help prevent cardiovascular disease, and more.1-11 Whey is a food source studied for maximizing production of glutathione,12,13 one of the body’s main internally produced, free radical scavengers.14,15
Glutathione levels drop with age, and this could play a role in neurodegenerative health issues, reduced immunity, and a host of other age-related conditions.16-20
Whey, made from the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production, is not just a source of protein, but also of nutrients including branched-chain amino acids, immunoglobulins, and bio-active protein sub-fractions such as lactoferrin.
These benefits show why whey is increasingly viewed as a food that can prevent frailty and promote healthy longevity.
Whey Keeps Muscles from Weakening
An insufficient intake of quality protein can lead to loss of muscle mass. For most people, this muscle loss begins around age 40, with an estimated 8% loss of muscle mass per decade. After age 70, muscle mass decreases by about 15% per decade.24
Inadequate protein consumption among older individuals is associated with reduced strength, decreased bone mass, low immunity, cognitive impairment, and delayed recovery from wounds and surgery.28 In fact, low protein intake is associated with frailty,29 when the body is so weak it becomes unable to cope with stress or injury. Frailty is a strong predictor of mortality in the elderly.21,30
Loss of muscle mass is not inevitable but does require some active countermeasures to prevent it.
Whey protein delivers an abundance of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), essential nutrients that reduce muscle breakdown and stimulate the building of protein in muscle.31
Of the three BCAAs found in whey, leucine is the most metabolically active, helping to build muscle by activating a signaling pathway that controls the body’s anabolic (growth-promoting) drive.2,32-35 Aging muscle ordinarily becomes resistant to leucine stimulation, but taking leucine-rich whey can overcome this, stimulating muscle synthesis.33-37
Whey Boosts Lean Muscle Mass
Whey has valuable potential to help prevent age-related muscle loss. But the benefits go even further. Recent studies have shown that whey significantly increases lean muscle mass—and not just among athletes.
In a randomized, controlled trial, researchers divided 81 healthy, older women, aged 65-80, into three groups for a 24-week program. One group exercised twice weekly, the second group took whey protein supplements but didn’t exercise, and the third group took whey protein after exercising.4
The increase in skeletal muscle mass was significantly higher for the whey-and-exercise group than for either of the two other groups. There was also a significant increase in grip strength and walking speed.4
Whey Helps Stop Age-Related Weight Gain
Whey doesn’t just affect the muscles. As we age, metabolism slows, and we start to put on weight more easily, increasing our risk of everything from heart disease to diabetes to strokes. This used to seem like an inevitable part of life. But research now shows that whey is an effective way to fight fat, helping to maintain weight and lean body mass as we age.40
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Whey Protein and Aging
- Whey protein is not just for athletes seeking to build muscle mass.
- Whey supplementation has been shown to help prevent the loss of muscle mass in aging individuals, inhibit weight gain, and reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
This potent protein helps prevent frailty, obesity, and heart disease, while promoting longevity.
WHAT TYPE OF WHEY PROTEIN SUPPLEMENT IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Whey protein is commonly available in three forms:
- Isolate, and
- Isolate with added creatine and glutamine.
Whey concentrate is whey, but with the water removed. It is rich in both branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and glutamine. The concentrate form of whey is a powder that mixes easily for a smooth-textured protein shake. High-quality whey concentrates contain no animal growth hormones.
Most whey concentrates contain about 80% protein. It is the ideal protein to help build muscle size and aid in recovery. Overall, whey concentrate may be the most economical form of protein for the human body to digest and use, which is why it is among the world’s most popular sports supplements.
Whey protein isn’t just for athletes and bodybuilders. Whey supplementation has now been shown to help prevent several common effects of aging, including loss of lean muscle mass and excessive weight gain. It also lowers cardiovascular risk and blood pressure. It is a powerful tool to prevent frailty and heart disease and to boost longevity.
- Oikawa SY, McGlory C, D’Souza LK, et al. A randomized controlled trial of the impact of protein supplementation on leg lean mass and integrated muscle protein synthesis during inactivity and energy restriction in older persons. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;108(5):1060-8.
- Paddon-Jones D, Short KR, Campbell WW, et al. Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1562s-6s.
- Pepe G, Tenore GC, Mastrocinque R, et al. Potential anticarcinogenic peptides from bovine milk. J Amino Acids. 2013;2013:939804.
- Mori H, Tokuda Y. Effect of whey protein supplementation after resistance exercise on the muscle mass and physical function of healthy older women: A randomized controlled trial. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2018Sep;18(9):1398-404.
- Fekete AA, Giromini C, Chatzidiakou Y, et al. Whey protein lowers systolic blood pressure and Ca-caseinate reduces serum TAG after a high-fat meal in mildly hypertensive adults. Sci Rep. 2018 Mar 22;8(1):5026.
- Niccoli S, Kolobov A, Bon T, et al. Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Rehabilitation Outcomes in Hospitalized Geriatric Patients: A Double Blinded, Randomized Controlled Trial. J Nutr Gerontol Geriatr. 2017 Oct-Dec;36(4):149-65.
- Bergia RE, 3rd, Hudson JL, Campbell WW. Effect of whey protein supplementation on body composition changes in women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2018 Jul 1;76(7):539-51.
- Ho CF, Jiao Y, Wei B, et al. Protein supplementation enhances cerebral oxygenation during exercise in elite basketball players. Nutrition. 2018 Sep;53:34-7.
- Fernandes RR, Nabuco HCG, Sugihara Junior P, et al. Effect of protein intake beyond habitual intakes following resistance training on cardiometabolic risk disease parameters in pre-conditioned older women. Exp Gerontol. 2018 Sep;110:9-14.
- Kemmler W, Kohl M, Freiberger E, et al. Effect of whole-body electromyostimulation and / or protein supplementation on obesity and cardiometabolic risk in older men with sarcopenic obesity: the randomized controlled FranSO trial. BMC Geriatr. 2018 Mar 9;18(1):70.
- Wirunsawanya K, Upala S, Jaruvongvanich V, et al. Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Am Coll Nutr. 2018 Jan;37(1):60-70.
- Bumrungpert A, Pavadhgul P, Nunthanawanich P, et al. Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Nutritional Status, Glutathione Levels, and Immune Function in Cancer Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind Controlled Trial. J Med Food. 2018 Jun;21(6):612-6.
- Tosukhowong P, Boonla C, Dissayabutra T, et al. Biochemical and clinical effects of Whey protein supplementation in Parkinson’s disease: A pilot study. J Neurol Sci. 2016 Aug 15;367:162-70.
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